Way to Go!

Posted: June 30, 2008 in 1 Thessalonians, Uncategorized

Introduction/Background:

Name the most popular Christian book series in recent history? Left Behind. The whole premise of the story is what would happen to a group of people who got left behind in the rapture & then came to Christ? Not an uncommon question…it’s one that people have been asking for centuries. And even the church has asked, what would happen if we got left behind? Have we already missed the rapture?

That’s exactly the issue Paul was tackling with the church at Thessalonica. In both letters to the Thessalonians, Paul went into much detail about what the end-days were going to look like for Christians, and the moment that Christ Jesus would call every believer to Himself in the twinkling of an eye. And from that…why we should at all times be ready!

1st read about Thessalonica in Acts 17. Paul & Silas had just gone through the experience in Philippi where they were unfairly imprisoned & God decided to get the guard’s attention through a miraculous earthquake. Paul had earlier received the vision from a man in Macedonia calling him to come & help them, and now Paul & Silas had officially gotten there. Once in Thessalonica, Paul followed his normal strategy by going to the synagogue. There he preached for 3 weeks until he was kicked out by the Jewish leaders.

At this point, scholars disagree on the timeframe. In Luke’s narrative, the Jewish leaders seize Jason (since they couldn’t find Paul) & drag him before the authorities…and Paul moves on to Berea. Whether this happened at the end of 3 weeks or over a period of a few months is unclear since Paul apparently had time to set up his tentmaking business in town & received some gifts from the church at Philippi. Whatever the case, the church at Thessalonica was basically comprised of nothing but new believers in Christ…which makes Paul’s choice of teaching pretty interesting. What we see in 1 Thess is a flyover of everything from the deity of Christ to purity in sanctification to the rapture & 2nd coming. Likely this is a miniature version of what Paul taught in every city he started a mission in – and wasn’t able to finish in Thessalonica due to his short time there.

Underscores the importance of teaching doctrine within the church! Often church’s advertise themselves as the place to get the best coffee & hear the best jokes each & every Sunday morning…but that has very little to do why God calls us to gather together (doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread, prayers – Acts 2:42).

[MAP] Seaport & center of a trading route crossroads. Thus a lot of different people were passing through. There were some fairly influential Jews there, but a majority of Greeks & other gentiles. (City actually still exists today!) Fairly large city at the time with 2-300,000 ppl there. Date of writing? Probably one of the 1st letters written by Paul around 51AD (~ 20 years after the Res).

Starts by greeting the church – and it’s a joyful greeting! Paul is rejoicing in their faith & the evangelism that has resulted from it. There’s much to praise God for…and Paul was never one to refrain from doing so. J

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 (NKJV)
1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A. Typical Pauline opening. We sign at the end; they signed at the beginning… Silas & Timothy were with Paul & surely sent the same sentiments, but Paul writes the letter in the 1st person throughout.

B. What’s the bond between Paul, Silas, Timothy & Thessalonica? They are “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! They are all part of the same family of faith. Paul may not have been there long, but he was utterly assured of the fact, as he’ll make plain throughout Ch 1.

a. God is our Father because we are in Christ. Always important to keep in mind b/c although God is the Father over all creation, until the point when we are born again, we are outside His family. We are at enmity with Him (Rom 8:7) & are of our ‘father’ the Devil (John 8:44). … BUT through Christ we have been born-again & received the spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15) – and now we have been brought into the very family of God! Not only can we call God our Father, but we can call Him “Abba!” Praise God!!

b. Jesus = His name; Christ = His purpose (anointed to save); Lord = His position (divinity). Paul stresses the divinity of Christ here – note how he links God the Father & Jesus together by them both being the source of grace & peace…

i. Never let anyone tell you that Jesus is less than God! If He’s not fully God, than the whole of the testimony of the New Testament is in doubt, He could not have risen from the dead, and our faith is in vain. Jesus IS God & He IS Lord!

C. Grace & Peace: Always the same sentiments, always the same order. Combination of the common Greek (Charis) and Hebrew (Shalom) greetings. Always in that order b/c the grace of God through Christ Jesus always precedes the peace of God…

2 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, 3 remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father,

A. Was Paul obsessed with the Thessalonians & never able to think of anything else but them? Of course not – but he did thank God for them every time he thought of them…and he hadn’t been out of Thessalonica for too long by the time he wrote the letter. But Paul always demonstrated a pastoral heart for the churches he planted – he wasn’t there to build up his own resume; he wanted to see them flourish. And prayer is essential for that!

B. What specifically did Paul remember? Their “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope. Sound familiar? 1 Cor 13:13 same grouping, listing their importance among the gifts. In 1 Thess, Paul writes what they produce.

a. Work of faith”: Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? [] But there IS a work…believing on Jesus Christ: John 6:28-29 (28) Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (29) Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” [] Are we saved BY our work? Absolutely not! We’re saved by grace (Eph 2:8-9)…we’re saved by HIS work on the cross! But when asked what to do to be saved, the answer is always the same: repent & believe…

b. Labor of love”: Whereas work can be enjoyable, labor is generally something that leaves you exhausted. And living out true agape love can be exhausting, because it’s exemplified in service… [] We often say “A faith that saves is a faith that works” & that’s the labor Paul’s referring to here. Our love for Christ & each other isn’t a lovey-dovey-sit-around-a-milkshake sort of love. It’s active & serving the Lord Jesus however He calls us to serve Him.

i. Underscores our motive for service. Our love for Christ is our primary motivation for everything else that we do. If we go into something for the Lord begrudgingly, complaining the whole way, we need to ask ourselves if we’re doing it for the Lord…

c. Patience of hope”: While we’re here, we’ve got to be patient until we get there. Personally, I’m really looking forward to heaven – but I’m not expecting it here on earth anytime soon. In this world, we will have trials (anyone saying otherwise is selling something); so we need the patience from the Lord in order to endure…and that comes knowing that there’s more to come. No trial is going to last forever; one day we will be face to face with Jesus!

i. BTW, we’re not just waiting for anything in general. We’re not looking for the 12th imam of Islam…we’re not awaiting reincarnation. We’ve got patient hope in “our Lord Jesus Christ

d. Notice this is all past/present/future. We believed in faith – we currently live out the love of Christ – we wait for the future hope of heaven by death or rapture.

4 knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.

A. Why do we have that faith, hope, & love? Because we’ve been elected by God. We don’t have time to get into all the doctrine of election (go back and read Eph 1 for details)… Suffice to say that if you’re a Christian, God HAS chosen (elected) you to be saved & praise God for it. ‘But I don’t understand how God can choose me & yet I’m commanded to choose Him?’ If you’re married, you didn’t have a problem with it then – why now?

a. The problem we have with election is that we try to use our finite minds to look at things through God’s infinite perspective. From before the foundations of the world, God loved you & appointed you for salvation. From my perspective, it happened in 1987 when I put my faith in Christ Jesus. He chooses us; we must respond to Him in faith – amen! That’s all we need understand.

B. Our election means that we’re beloved! It’s one of the defining characteristics… 1 John 4:19 We love Him because He first loved us. [] That’s incredible! Because no matter how unlovable you may think yourself to be, God still loved you for the work that He wanted to see done in you through Christ Jesus. In fact, God loved you precisely when you were completely unlovable…and yet still chose you for His own.

a. ‘How do I know if God loves me like that?’ Find out: repent from your sin & trust Jesus Christ for your salvation…

5 For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.

A. How do Paul, Silas, & Timothy know that the church at Thessalonica is part of the elect? Because they saw them receive the gospel! Paul describes their conversion in verse 6, but here he describes how the gospel went forth.

a. In word: Faith comes by hearing & hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17). If someone is going to be converted, they need to be told the gospel 1st! Paul never hesitated to preach the word of life to people.

b. In power: The word is δύναμις, usually referring to the miraculous power of God [“dynamite”]. In Acts 17, there’s no record of miracles being performed…was something done that’s not in the Scripture? Perhaps. But don’t forget the greatest miracle that’s occurred to every person in Christ: you’ve been born again! Paul will expand on this in verse 6…

c. In the Holy Spirit: It’s impossible for the word of God to go out with power without the working of the Holy Spirit. I don’t understand why some would teach we don’t need to pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit – praise God He indwells us at salvation & seals us for eternal life, but He makes His ongoing power available to every Christian for the asking.

d. In much assurance: The grammar implies that the Holy Spirit was the one Who gave the church their assurance of salvation – as He does us. We’re told to examine ourselves to see if we’re in the faith (2 Cor 13:5); if we’ve truly repented & placed our life/faith/trust in the hands of Christ Jesus alone, the Holy Spirit will assure us of that.

i. If you don’t have that assurance, get on your knees before God & ask Him to search your heart. Ask Him to reveal whatever it is that has gotten in the way of repentance & faith…and then deal with it!

e. In integrity: Paul’s reputation had come under attack in Thessalonica by the Jews who wanted him kicked out – so he’s going to appeal many times to the church’s knowledge of how he acted (esp. in Ch 2). But the point is clear…if we expect to see people converted by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have to live lives that are demonstrably converted by Jesus Christ.

6 And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit,

A. The result of the gospel going powerfully forth through the Holy Spirit? People were converted! They became followers of the Lord…how so? They became followers of Paul & Silas who followed Christ Jesus. Paul didn’t come to set up a sect devoted to himself; he taught people to follow (Gk: μιμητής ~ mimic) him so they would know what to do & how to live in order to imitate Christ. And the imitating Christ is basic discipleship 101: Matthew 16:24-25 (24) Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (25) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. []

B. Not only did they receive the word, but they received it “in much affliction” – demonstrated when a mob took Jason out & hauled him before the leaders of the city accusing him of treason (Acts 17:7).

a. So often we think that we need the right environment to worship. For most of the world, that’s not the case! They are afflicted – and yet their faith not only survives; it flourishes…

b. In the middle of that affliction, we can have the “joy of the Holy Spirit”… Our joy isn’t based on our circumstances; it’s based on what God has done & is doing in us. He’s saved us – He’s adopted us – He’s preparing a place for us to that we can be with Jesus for all eternity…that’s a reason to have joy!

7 so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. 8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.

A. Because their faith flourished, they became examples to the whole church in Greece. Whether it was Corinth, Berea, Athens, or wherever – Paul could point to the church at Thessalonica & say “Look at them – they’re truly following Christ!” That’s true maturity…they learned from Paul how to imitate Christ & now other churches are learning to imitate Thessalonica in imitating Christ.

B. They weren’t just examples; they were evangelists…because of the work going on in the church, people all over the countryside were getting saved! Remember, Thessalonica was a major trade-route city – with people constantly passing through, they were able to witness to many people & all of Greece seemed to have heard of their witness. [] Even if they weren’t able to go to every corner of the world, they were able to help in that effort by aiding Paul in his journeys. 2 Cor 8:1 implies Thessalonica was one of the churches that helped supply Paul during his ministry in Corinth (somewhat to the shame of the Corinthian church).

i. Mentioned it before, but it’s worth remembering that because of your faithful giving, there are churches & missions in Mexico, Cuba, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Thailand, and more that are supported by CCT. From this little church in East Texas, the word of the Lord is sounding forth…praise God!

9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,

A. Who are “they themselves”? The people coming in contact with the Thessalonian witness when passing through. Apparently Paul & Silas came across these people often & whenever they’d start talking to them, the people would say “Oh I’ve heard of you – you’re the ones who shared Christ with Thessalonica.”

B. Don’t you love hearing someone’s testimony? They know what they were, what they turned from, and what God did for them in Christ Jesus! For the Thessalonians, they were idol worshippers… After hearing the gospel, they turned from their idols to God… Now they actively serve the “living and true God”…

a. Notice the work of faith & labor of love here: (1) They turned in a work of faith to believe on Jesus Christ as Lord, apart from their idols. (2) They served the Living God in a labor of love…Paul ties in hope in vs. 10.

b. This is the definition of repentance! To “repent” is simply to “turn” away from sin & “turn” to God…

10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

A. I love this – it’s the gospel in reverse! From the perspective of the church, this is exactly what & why we’re waiting patiently with hope.

a. Jesus delivered us from the wrath of God at the Cross…we absolutely deserved it because of sin & He absolutely fulfilled it in His death. Praise God that for the believer, there is no wrath that awaits us…

b. Jesus is raised from the dead…essential fact! The gospel isn’t merely that Jesus died for our sins (everyone dies), but that He paid the price for our sins, proven & declared through the Resurrection! We don’t follow a dead prophet…or a dead teacher…or a dead anything. Worshipping something that’s not alive is the definition of idolatry. We serve a LIVING Savior!

i. Raised by God the Father. Scripture also affirms Jesus was raised by the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:11) & raised by Himself (John 10:17-18). The whole Godhead takes part in the Resurrection – demonstrating not only the power of God, but the fact that Jesus IS God Himself. God alone has power over death; thus Jesus is fully God.

c. Jesus is alive in heaven & will be returning…

B. Notice the future tense here. The wrath of God was poured out at Calvary, but there is wrath yet to come (7 year Great Tribulation – written about in depth in Rev 6-18). And we will be delivered from it…this is not something Christians will go through.

a. Worth acknowledging that there is much debate on the subject of the rapture (and pretty much everything else concerning end-times). There are many Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christians that view things vastly differently…but at Calvary Chapel, we believe in the pre-tribulation rapture (statement of faith). Want you to know this up-front, so you know the perspective from where we’ll be teaching it.

b. Don’t miss Paul’s point. Over & over throughout the NT, we are told that the Lord Jesus is coming back at any moment. In fact, it was the 1st thing the apostles were told after Jesus’ ascension! (Acts 1:11) Are you ready?

Conclusion:

So the Thessalonians were doing everything the church should be doing! They believed in a work of faith – they were serving the Lord in a labor of love – they were awaiting the Lord’s coming in patience of hope. They weren’t couch-potato Christians just hanging around looking up for the Rapture; their hope in Christ’s return was so vivid that they could not help but go out and share the gospel with everyone around them. Amen! May every church in Tyler do the same thing…

Where we can get into trouble is in our distractions. We go to both extremes…either:

(1) The Lord hasn’t come yet, so we think we’ve got plenty of time to goof off & dabble in the things of the world. If so, we’re going to be surprised when He comes as a thief in the night.

(2) We get so caught up in the signs of the coming rapture that we neglect to tell people about the glorious gospel so that they might be included in it.

Let us have a patient hope…one that can be assured of things to come, but patiently serving our Lord & King until He does.

I’ll ask again: are you ready? Jesus Christ could literally call every Christian home at any time…are you going to be included in that call? I speak to so many people who think they are Christian because they’re decent people who provide for their family & go to church a few times a year…let me be clear: that in NO way makes anyone a Christian. What makes someone a Christian is by being born-again of the Spirit of God – and that’s only possible through the death & resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus went to the Cross because we had a debt of sin we could not pay; so He paid it in His blood & life. He died the death you deserved…but He’s not dead today; He’s alive! He makes this offer of new life & forgiveness available to the entire world…but you must ask Him for it.

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